Exiled heart, p.2

Exiled Heart, page 2

 

Exiled Heart
 



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  “Perhaps.” Face reddening, Prince Yasin focused his ire on Ziad. “I love the Kingdom. Why would I endanger it by poisoning our youth? Certainly not like America does!” He switched to Ben, who shrugged. “I will gladly supply all of my records to you. Without seizure being required. I’m sure you will find that this crate,” he tapped the wood with his foot, “was not among my recent arrivals.”

  He rubbed his chin and glanced at his aides. Then came that smirk.

  Ziad’s fists tightened as he battled the impulse to wipe it off the prince’s face. He folded his arms across his chest. “Did it just show up? Did someone say, ‘I was mistaken and left the crate at the wrong place?’ ”

  General al-Talil almost imperceptibly shook his head as if to say, “Don’t go there.”

  “Or perhaps, Colonel, they got the wrong warehouse.” Prince Yasin stepped closer. “It happens all of the time in Jeddah. You and I both know this.”

  Ziad lowered his voice. “I want those records.”

  “You can have them.” Prince Yasin narrowed his eyes. Once more, his lips twitched upward. “Are you trying to turn this into more?”

  Ziad’s stomach dropped. “I don’t follow.”

  The prince closed the gap to mere centimeters. “I believe you do. You can’t win. You didn’t then. You won’t now.” He backed away a step. “You can have those records, Colonel.” He wagged his finger in his face. “But I’m warning you. You are meddling with the wrong person. I would never run drugs in this country. Never!”

  He whipped around. Robe billowing behind him, he stalked toward the front of the warehouse. The general followed as if to placate royalty.

  The nerve of him! Pain shot through Ziad’s jaw. He huffed out a hard breath.

  “Down, boy. Down,” Ben murmured in English.

  Ziad had forgotten about him.

  Ben took his arm and led him away from where Sami and his men had begun processing the scene. “What was that all about?”

  He didn’t want to talk about it. “Nothing.”

  Ben cocked his head and raised an eyebrow.

  Time to focus on the here and now. “I’ll have all shipments coming into the prince’s warehouses checked. I guarantee we’ll find the ‘good prince’ will claim someone is illegally using his space. Possible but doubtful. Major Rafiq, finish up here. Ben, let’s go.”

  They passed through the shattered door and stepped outside. In the faint light of dawn, he discerned the outline of a SANG Land Rover. In the distance, the call to morning prayers filled the air. “Ben, I must pray.”

  His friend nodded and leaned against the hood.

  Ten minutes later, Ziad joined him and rested his elbows on the cold metal. He scrubbed his hands across his face before pulling out a pack of cigarettes. He shook one out. Using a mother-of-pearl lighter, he lit it as he assessed his next move. “Ben.”

  “Yup?”

  In Arabic, Ziad continued, “I’ll prepare a sample of the drug to have your laboratory in the States analyze.”

  Ben muffled a yawn. “Sounds good.”

  “We’ll also interrogate the suspects and start reviewing the paperwork. Allah willing, we’ll have our answers tonight or by Saturday. Meet me after sunset prayers at our usual spot, and I’ll give you a report.”

  “That I can do.” Ben clapped him on the shoulder. “You did a good job. We will find the supplier and get those drugs off the street.”

  “You helped.”

  “Nah. Your case, your glory. I’ll see you soon.”

  “Insha’Allah.” Ziad nodded. He watched as Ben climbed into a Subaru Forester. Then he nodded to his driver and slid into the passenger seat of the Land Rover.

  A drug bust. Three suspects in custody. He congratulated himself.

  All in a good night’s work.

  2

  At the end of the day, the Wednesday evening sun poured through the windows of Ziad’s office. Light almost seared his retinas. Hah. No, they burned from exhaustion. Smothering a yawn, he pored over the handwritten notes he’d made during the course of his investigation into the arrival of the drug Zap in the Kingdom.

  Nothing made any sense. It wouldn’t. Not when he could barely keep his eyes open. Making himself comfortable would help. With chin in hand, he closed his eyes. Just for a few seconds. Then he’d get to work again.

  A door creaked open.

  He jumped.

  Sami grinned. “I didn’t mean to disturb you, sir.”

  Ziad swiped at some drool seeping from the corner of his mouth. He coughed. “I… was awake. What do you have?”

  “Hard copies of the photos we took during the interrogations.” Sami laid them on his desk. “I’ve placed the digital images on the server along with the MP3 files of the interrogations.”

  Ziad flipped through the glossy prints, then shoved them away. “The files we requested from Prince Yasin?”

  His executive officer groaned. “There’s so many!”

  “How many?”

  “I counted a hundred file boxes. They fill our largest conference room.”

  Ziad’s eyes narrowed. “I’m sure he intentionally mixed them up.”

  He studied the major. Dark shadows under his eyes. Two days of stubble on his face. Not that he looked any better, at least judging from the last time he’d glanced at himself in the mirror. “Go ahead home and get some rest. We’ll deal with them on Saturday. Have a good weekend.”

  “I will, sir.” Sami reached for the doorknob.

  “And Sami.”

  He paused. “Sir?”

  “Good work.”

  Another smile. “Thank you, sir.”

  Ziad spread the photos on his blotter. They were of the hands of the three suspects. On the left hand of each, between the ring finger and pinkie, was a tattoo, one of the Arabic word for Brother. The tail of it extended approximately a centimeter onto the top of the hand. He remembered his questions. “Who is your supplier? How often did you visit the warehouse? What is your manner of communication with him? What is that symbol on your hand?”

  Not that he got answers. Hah! Hardly. Each man sat stone silent, yet he hadn’t missed the fear in their eyes when he mentioned transfer to SANG headquarters in Riyadh. After they thought about it over the weekend, they had one more chance to confess.

  Ziad lit a cigarette and began writing his notes on a notepad as he recalled all of the events of his forty-eight-hour day. As he added them to the case file, he glanced at the clock. Almost time for sunset prayers. Maybe he could make it to the mosque near the coffee shop where he would meet Ben. Rubbing his chin, he winced. Time to clean up. And rest. He turned to place the folder in a file drawer in his credenza.

  Stop!

  He jumped. “I’m so tired I’m hearing things now,”

  The drawer scraped as he opened it.

  Take it!

  He whipped around. No one. Not Sami. Not any others on his staff. A chill shimmied down his spine. Were the jinn after him? He set the folder on the desk and stared at it.

  Hide it!

  Should he? Why? It wasn’t like he was a criminal. The three men residing in the brig had that honor.

  Grumbling, Ziad undid the clasps holding all of his notes and placed them in the scanner on his desk. It began the slow process of scanning no less than fifty pages into a PDF format. A sigh escaped him as he waited. At last! He inserted his personal jump drive, placed the PDF file on it, and copied other files related to the case, including the MP3 files of the interrogation. He looped the drive’s lanyard around his neck and slid it under his shirt.

  His gaze shot to the clock. Too late to go to the mosque for prayers. He completed them alone in his office. Or tried to. Yawns interfered. Such was his life at the moment. At least he had a couple of days off that included his weekly meeting with Ben.

  Ziad rose and stuffed his beret onto his head. As he left, he touched his chest and felt the hard outline of the jump drive. Only then did he head into the cooling April air
.

  #####

  “So sorry I am late, my friend.” Ziad said in English as he joined Ben at their favorite coffee shop near the edge of one of Jeddah’s more fashionable shopping districts. With a steaming brew in hand, he pulled out a chair. “I had to eat supper and find parking.”

  Ben, who’d stretched his legs under the table while he fiddled with his phone, shrugged. “No worries on my part. I’ve been texting with Em. Seems she found her dress online.”

  “How is she?”

  His friend smiled, and his eyes took on a sparkle that wasn’t there when they talked work. “Wonderful. She’s been at the consulate as she’s worked on wedding stuff with her mom. She’s using our Internet connection so she doesn’t drive the matawaen crazy looking at wedding dresses.”

  Both men chuckled.

  Ben yawned. “Sorry. I told her I needed tonight off. You’re such a slave driver.”

  Ziad laughed. “I never heard you object to joining us on our raid.”

  “You got me there. But you’re glad I’m did, right?” Ben nudged him.

  “Thank you for not telling the general you were the one who made the suspect give up.”

  “Never, my friend. Like I said, your case, your glory. What did you find out?”

  Ziad glanced around. In a low voice, he began speaking in Arabic. “Nothing. Prince Yasin sent me all of his records. A whole conference room’s worth.”

  “Not surprising.”

  “Exactly. We’ll get through it. As for our suspects?” Ziad shook his head. “They refuse to talk. Although I noticed something.” He spread his left hand on the table and pointed to where his little finger and ring finger joined near his gold wedding band. “All three of them had a small tattoo here that extends a little onto the top. No larger than a centimeter in diameter. I made photographs of it.”

  “What was it?”

  “The Arabic word for Brother.”

  “Like brother-in-arms?”

  “Perhaps. Since all three of them had it, I wonder if it’s a way to mark them as being part of the same network.”

  “Or gang,” Ben turned his cup in his hands and then took a sip.

  “Gang?”

  Ben nodded. “You have heard of gangs.”

  “In America, yes.”

  “Right. Usually, they have tattoos that mark them as being in one particular gang. Like the Crips. Or the Bloods.”

  “We have no gangs here.”

  “I guess what I am trying to say is maybe this is a way to identify these guys. From what the DEA has told me, this Zap, this purified form of heroin, is making its way across the world through the States and Europe. Asia too.” He sipped some more. “Maybe they use tattoos as a marking to identify operatives they might not know personally and who may be spread across the world. This Saudi end of things—what you busted this morning—could be one cog in a very big wheel. Could be the big boss is here.”

  Ziad lit a cigarette and puffed away as he considered his theory. “It’s possible. Every rug in that crate we found was loaded with Zap. And another crate as well. Approximately one hundred kilos. You said how much can kill?”

  “The DEA thinks just a gram. Users shoot up and get crazy highs, at least until it bioaccumulates enough. Then it is lights out.”

  “Yes, it’s quite possible that just a part was meant for here. Prince Yasin is known as a worldwide trader.”

  “Or traitor.” Ben steepled his fingers and rested his chin on them. His lips curled.

  “Hah. Perhaps.”

  “But he is royalty.”

  “Minor royalty.”

  “But royalty, nonetheless.”

  Ziad rolled his eyes. “Who cares? The man is a fool.”

  “Even fools have millions, and he stands to make more if he is the supplier.” Ben leaned forward and rested his elbows on the metal table. In English, he asked, “What’s up between you and the prince?”

  Ziad stilled, then closed his eyes and rubbed his temples to stave off the sudden tension in them. Maybe deflection would help. “Would you like to go camping in the desert before it gets too hot?”

  Ben’s eyes narrowed. “After the raid, you looked as if you wanted to pound him to a pulp. You were grinding your teeth.”

  “I was not.”

  “Yes, you were. I’ve been out to the stables with Em. I know what it sounds like when horses grind their teeth.”

  “I am not a horse.”

  “No, but you sounded like one.”

  Ziad folded his arms across his chest. “I really do not want to talk about it.”

  “I’ve got all night.” Ben reached out and snagged Ziad’s keys off the table. “And now I have your keys. So unless you want to hot-wire your Land Rover, let’s hear it.”

  Ziad groaned and pinched the bridge of his nose. “We are in a… a feud.”

  “A family feud?” Ben leaned closer and in Arabic asked, “Like the Hatfields and McCoys?”

  “Who?”

  “Two families in the States who were bitter enemies. I guess you could say they became a metaphor for bitter feuds.”

  “Yes, we’re like your Hatfields and McCoys.” Sweat broke out on his hands as he continued in English, “I really do not want to talk about it.”

  “Look.” Ben glanced around as if to ensure they were alone. “I’m here as a listening ear and someone who might have a different perspective.”

  Ziad considered his motives. A curious friend. Nothing more. “This goes no further than you?”

  “Promise.”

  “Not to Emma or her aunt and uncle?”

  “Promise. Scout’s honor.”

  Ziad stubbed out his cigarette on the table. “In the early nineteen hundreds, the House of Saud began uniting clans to form the Kingdom. Back then, the al-Kazim clan was huge. My great-grandfather was the leader, and my grandfather had ten brothers. We were closely allied with Prince Yasin’s clan since both were Hejazis and resistant to uniting with the House of Saud. My grandfather was the youngest.”

  Ziad lit his final cigarette of the day. “When he was about six or seven, Prince Yasin’s clan betrayed the House of al-Kazim. The House of Saud offered them a royalty position through the marriage of one of their daughters—if they helped defeat the al-Kazims and other Hejazis in and around Jeddah. They agreed.” His free hand gripped the edge of the table. “One night, we al-Kazims met Prince Yasin’s clan at an oasis near al-Sharana for a celebration. The men all gathered in a tent on one side. On the other side, the al-Kazim women and children gathered.”

  Ben began shredding his cardboard cup holder. “I’m afraid to ask what happened.”

  Ziad’s jaw tightened. “My grandfather was too young to attend with the men. He had a hiding place at that oasis, and he snuck out of the tent where he should have been sleeping. His mother sent his older sister Hanan to find him because she knew his hiding place.” Metal bit into his fingers. “Just as she was about to scold him and make him return to the tent, screams began erupting from the men’s tent. You see, Ben, Prince Yasin’s clan brutally murdered all of the al-Kazim men. All of them. Close to twenty-five. My grandfather’s nine brothers? Gone.”

  “Wow.”

  “Once they finished at the men’s tent, they did the same to the al-Kazim women and children.” A line of pain opened up along the fingertip of his index finger. “My great-aunt and grandfather witnessed it all. They realized the only way to survive was to remain still. By dawn, the murderers were gone. Only my grandfather and great-aunt remained. A twelve-year-old and six-year-old!” He released his grip and glanced at his finger. A line of red had formed. He pressed it against his pants leg. “They had no choice but to try to make it to Jeddah. They took a camel and made it to the outskirts before my grandfather collapsed from exhaustion and dehydration. But they had arrived at the edge of the al-Talil camp.”

  “Sabirah’s family?”

  “Right.”

  Ben sat back. “Well, I’ll be!”

 
What?”

  “An expression. Go on.”

  In Arabic, Ziad continued, “They adopted them as if they were family. My great-aunt never let my grandfather forget what happened. She told him every chance she got. And also that he was the last al-Kazim left. He knew his duty. To produce sons to restock the clan and to take revenge for what had happened. He married into one branch of the al-Talils. My father married into another branch, and obviously, I did the same.” Oh, did he remember his father’s charge to him shortly before he married Sabirah. In a low voice, he added, “My four sons are the start of the rebirth of our clan.”

  Arms folded across his chest, Ben frowned. “If Prince Yasin’s clan betrayed you by going over to the House of Saud, why are you so loyal to the crown? It does not make sense to me.”

  “Something happened between the House of Saud and Prince Yasin’s clan. His own great-grandfather must have displeased the king somehow because he wound up where Prince Yasin is now, a small prince of a small part of the Kingdom near al-Sharana. Meanwhile, the al-Talils, being the smart merchants they were, saw no future in continuing to resist. They turned and united with the House of Saud. Since my grandfather was under their protection, he had to acquiesce and limit his feud only to Prince Yasin’s clan. He vowed to protect the House of Saud.” Ziad stared at the pile of scraps in front of Ben. “Did I make you nervous?”

  “Nope. Bad habit, I guess.” He pushed some of them around. “I take it that is why Prince Yasin insulted you like that.”

  “Yes.”

  “Ziad, my friend, you must let it go.”

  Ziad glared at him. “Let it go? I can’t! You of all people should know that.”

  “Look.” Ben sighed and continued in English, “The good prince is baiting you, okay? He’s trying to make you lose your head on this.”

  “Lose my head?”

  “Act on those old grudges.”

  “I will not.”

  “And, my friend, it might be good to consider ending it. Before anyone—you or them—does any more damage.”

  Ziad’s eyes narrowed. “You know that is impossible.”

  Ben shrugged.

 
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